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| Spiritual Life |

| How To Develop Learners Not Legalistsby Jerry Bridges |

When I was first introduced to the idea of disciple­ship, I was given a list of seven spiritual disciplines I should practice every day—things such as a daily quiet time, Scripture memo­rization, Bible study, and prayer. As overwhelming as that list was, I did manage to survive and am extreme­ly grateful for the spiritual disci­plines I learned in the process. But I soon came to believe that my day-to-day relationship with God depended on how faithfully I per­formed those disciplines.

No one actually told me God's blessing on my life was based on my performance. Still, I had developed a vague but very real impression that God's smile or frown depended on what I did. The frequent challenge to "be faithful" in my quiet time, while intrinsically good, probably helped create this impression. Soon, I was passing on this legalistic attitude to those I was seeking to disciple.

In recent years I've noticed an even stronger emphasis on disciple­ship by legalism. Not only do some people convey that God's smile or frown is dependent on a person's performance, they communicate by attitude and action that their own approval is based on a person's faithful performance of certain dis­ciplines or attendance at certain Christian activities. The message is: People who don't do these things faithfully are not as "spiritual" or "committed" as those who do. However, it is not rules that effec-

tively disciple a person, it is God's grace. As the Apostle Paul said, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age" (Titus 2:11-12 ). Note that Paul says it is the grace of God—not a regimen of rules and activities—that teaches or disciples us. If we want to disciple others in a Biblical manner, we must disciple by the grace of God, not by legalism. But this poses a problem.

Proclaim the Good News

Too many people set grace and discipline (or discipleship) in opposi­tion to one other. Just as there is a strong element of legalistic disciple­ship within evangelicalism, there is an equally strong element of teach­ing that any emphasis on spiritual disciplines is a negation of God's grace.

How then can we apply Titus 2:11-12 in our discipling ministries? How can we disciple by grace? First, we must continue to teach the gospel to the people we are discipling. Our tendency is to proclaim this "good news" to people until they trust Christ; then we begin to teach them the demands of discipleship. But the

gospel Is the good news that God sent His Son into the world to die for all our sins—not just the sins we committed before we trusted Christ, but all our sins past, present, and future.

What do I mean when I say we must continue to preach the gospel to Christians? A believer recently said to a friend of mine, "I'm a fail­ure." In an effort to encourage, my friend told this person, "No, you're not a failure." While I appreciate my friend's compassion, I would suggest a different response to such a state­ment and the attitude of despair lying behind it. I would suggest that we say something like this: "That's right. You are a failure, and so am I. But that's why Jesus came. He came to die for people who are failures." You see, this dear person needed to hear the gospel just as much that day as she did the day she trusted Christ as her Savior.

Jesus came for spiritual failures not for the spiritually successful. He said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not

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come to call the righteous [the spiri­tually successful], but sinners [the spiritual failures] to repentance'" (Luke 5:31-32 ). We don't like to admit we're failures, but we really are! Jesus said we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-38). By that standard, all of us are failures. None of us has even come close to loving God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.

Merit Is Spelled G-R-A-C-E

I believe the two greatest hin­drances to discipleship are self-righteousness and guilt. Some peo­ple are not interested in pursuing true biblical discipleship because they are satisfied with their own performance. They have reduced the Christian life to measurable activities. Supposedly, they are the spiritually healthy Jesus spoke of who do not need the doctor (Luke 5:31-32).

Other believers are weighed down with guilt—often about the wrong things. They worry that they haven't succeeded in the spiritual disciplines as others seem to have done, or they've truly failed in a significant area of their lives and feel guilty about it. They haven't yet learned that Jesus died for those who have failed.

The gospel strips us of self-right­eousness and frees us from guilt. The gospel, reiterated every day, reminds the seemingly "successful" disciple that he really is a sinner because "no sinner, no Savior." It reminds the seemingly "unsuccess­ful" disciple that Jesus died for all his failures to practice the disciplines of discipleship.

Once a person is able to put his

failures into perspective, what next? We must help those we disciple realize that even their most diligent pursuit of spiritual disciplines never earns them one iota of favor from God. God's blessings come to us by His grace—through the merit of Jesus Christ. God's grace has been defined through the acrostic G-R-A-C-E, "God's Riches At Christ's Expense." This means that Jesus Christ has already merited for us every blessing and every answer to prayer we will ever receive. The practical outworking of this truth means that when I am "faithful" in my quiet time I do not earn God's blessing. Conversely, when I haven't been faithful I haven't forfeited

I believe the two greatest hindrances to discipleship are self-righteousness and guilt

God's blessing.

This truth needs to be empha­sized over and over, because we are all legalistic by nature. We don't have to be taught to relate to God on a performance basis; we do that naturally. Rather, we have to be taught over and over again that the only way we can truly relate to God is by His grace, through the merit of Jesus Christ. Why, then, should we be concerned with the practice of spiritual disciplines?

The Way to Spiritual Health

Although the spiritual disciplines do not earn God's favor, they are absolutely necessary for spiritual


An analogy I sometimes use is that of a child eating the nutritious food his mother has prepared. Eating the food doesn't earn his mother's approval (though she is undoubtedly pleased that he is eating it), but it is vitally necessary for his physical growth and health. In the same way, practicing spiritual disciplines does not earn God's approval (though He is pleased), but they are vitally nec­essary for our spiritual growth.

Exposure to the truths of God's Word through the teaching of oth­ers and our own personal study, consistent prayer, and the fellowship of other believers are some of the basic disciplines God has given us for our spiritual growth. We simply will not grow without consistency in these disciplines any more than a child will grow healthily apart from nutritious food. It is not an issue of God's approval or disapproval (and should not be a matter of our approval or disapproval). It is simply an issue of growth.

Grace Does Not Equal Indulgence

But suppose the person doesn't want to grow or, perhaps more accurately, doesn't want to pay the price of the spiritual disciplines nec­essary to grow. What do we do then? We do what Paul did. We admonish and teach (Colossians 1:28). We warn them of the dangers of spiritual slothfulness. We teach them the true meaning and intent of the grace of God as portrayed, for example, in Titus 2:11-12 . We point out that Jesus died, not just to rescue us from eternal damnation but "to redeem us from all wicked­ness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good" (Titus 2:14 ).

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Spiritual Life

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| The foundation of our discipling should be the gospel, not the spiritual disciplines. Only a person who is firmly established in the gospel can handle the important disciplines of the Christian life without falling into legalism. |

All the while we are admonishing and teaching, we should do so with an attitude of total acceptance. We should never imply to those we are discipling that God's favor is dependent on their faithfulness; rather, it is based on the merit of Jesus Christ on their behalf. And we

should certainly never indicate by our attitude or actions that our acceptance of them is based on their performance.

But doesn't this teaching of God's unconditional love to us in Christ lead to a careless attitude on the part of some? Yes it does— sometimes even to the point of willful and flagrant disobedience. To these people we must emphasize that God's grace does not negate the scriptural principles that "a man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7 ), and "The Lord disciplines those He loves" (Hebrews 12:6 ). God's uncon­ditional love should never be equat­ed with permissiveness and indul­gence.

Likewise, our love should be unconditional yet not permissive. It

should be like Paul's love as expressed to the Corinthians, "For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you" (2 Corinthians. 2:4 ). In all of our discipling relation­ships, we must remem­ber that we are only ministers of God. If God accepts a person by His grace, we must accept a person on the same basis, loving him unconditionally but not permissively. The foundation of our dis­cipling should be the gospel, not the spiritu­al disciplines. Only a person who is firmly established in the gospel can handle the important disciplines of the Christian life without failing into legalism.

Reprinted by permission of the author. Jerry Bridges is vice president of corporate affairs for The Navigators. He is also the author of several books, including Transforming Grace, Trusting God, and The Pursuit of Holiness (NavPress 1991,1988,1978). Jerry's favorite verse is Jeremiah 29:11 because "it tells of God's goodness to undeserving people like me." Jerry wishes more believers today really understood and acted upon "the grace of God as it relates to their day-to-day relation­ship with Him."

Scripture quotations from New International Version

Rev. Robert Hooper Russell Sr, 63,

passed away on April 13 after bat-

Russell's years of service in several churches in Georgia, and service to his country in the army. Thank God, for his large family and please pray for them, especially for his wife, Mary, as they continue on in the Lord's work without Rev. Russell. Notes of sympathy and encourage­ment may be sent to: 4501 W Horseshoe Rd, Blackshear, GA 31516-8460.


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